Switching sports from football to ice dance is not the most conventional, but for Lewis Gibson, it has put himself and partner Lilah Fear on course to represent Team GB at the Winter Olympics in Beijing.
The pair have already secured Britain a quota place at the Games after a brilliant seventh place finish at the World Championships, but like many winter sports, they now have to make that spot their own. For Fear, one of her main rivals for that spot is her sister, Sasha.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, both skaters were inspired to take up the sport inspired by the heroics of Torvill and Dean at the 1984 Olympics. That is a mark of the Bolero routine’s gold medal legacy, given that success came 10 years before Gibson - the older of the two - was even born.
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Prestwick-born Gibson took up skating on the back of watching the legendary ice dance couple on Dancing on Ice, originally taking up figure skating before switching disciplines.
“I started skating when I was 11, and it was after watching the first season of Dancing on Ice,” Gibson, 27, told Eurosport from the pair’s base in the Canadian city of Montreal.
“I was playing football before that, so a very drastic change of sports.
“I did single skating, and it’s full of jumps. I’ve always wanted to go to the Olympics, all skaters have that dream and I knew it wasn’t going to be possible for me to get those quadruple jumps, so I looked at other options.
Having been asked over a few years to give ice dance a try, I eventually did. It just worked, it’s a very different approach, it’s a lot more detailed orientated and the performance element is a lot stronger - that’s what I enjoyed most about singles, and that was amplified.
Fear’s journey into the sport was a lot more natural. Born in the USA to Canadian parents with a family full of skaters. Her mother was a big skater, and her uncle is a former NHL ice hockey player.
The 22-year-old moved to the UK when she was two, when she first stepped on to the ice. Fear has tri-nationality, but she says there was never a doubt she would represent GB.
“I lived there until I was 18, 19, that’s where all my childhood memories lie, and it was also my entry into the sport because I was competing around the country when I was younger,” she said.
“I always represented Great Britain, it wasn’t really an option in my head because that’s where I was training and where I learnt to ice dance. It just felt like such an honour, with such history in ice dance, especially with Torvill and Dean.
“They are so inspiring. They’ve paved the way for so many young skaters and set an incredible example of where you can go in the sport.
We feel a responsibility - they were so inspiring for us, and we need to set the example for young skaters, to switch from football to skating like Lewis did.
Gibson and Fear effectively have to qualify twice for Beijing - they have the quota place, but a spot on the plane is not guaranteed. Fear’s younger sister Sasha is one of her rivals for a spot when the British Championships take place in December, though it may take something special to pip the pair.
“We don’t know any different, the World Championships have always had this extra prestige because of the extra incentive of qualifying for the Olympics,” said Gibson.
“We have two programmes that we perform throughout the whole season, but they’re always in a state of evolution and I think we do stay very present, but we have a perspective of what’s coming up,” added Fear, asked how much they can focus on the Games.
“We take it one competition at a time which eventually leads to the Olympics, but it’s not so much focused on the Games - it’s what we need to do on a weekly basis technically and performance wise.
“We improve throughout the season, all athletes do, so to start the season with the same programme that we end it with... it never happens because we are able to do more challenging elements and push the boundaries even more as we go. That’s really exciting because there’s never a dull moment.”
Fear and Gibson clearly have a relationship which gels well on and off the ice, although Fear joked she can be guilty of giving people in her life “the silent treatment”. In the rink, it is all business, but off it, they can be seen at many a Montreal coffee house.
“It was really serendipitous for us, I split up with my previous partner two weeks before Lewis decided to switch to ice dance... or at least contacted me for a try out,” said Fear.
That timing was really lucky because otherwise I would not have been available. After three years of the federation trying to persuade Lewis to do ice dance, the timing worked out really well. We had a moment on our own in the try out where we put the relationship to the test, in that moment we saw that we would be able to work together really well.
The pandemic means in Olympic terms, there is barely a break between Games. At Tokyo 2020, Team GB won 65 medals - the same amount as London 2012. It was a sensational performance, and Gibson wants to be a part of continuing that.
“Being able to watch the Olympics and knowing there was such a strong chance of competing in the next one, it was so amazing,” he said.
“It was so inspiring watching all the athletes, coming through such a difficult year and doing so well was insane, every athlete had to deal with the pandemic the best they could.
“To see it be so successful for Team GB was really awesome and it was so motivating going into training, knowing it was only six months away at that time.”
“It’s also about the momentum,” added Fear. “With the Games being so close, and knowing it’s so in reach - it’s so motivating.”
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